The New York Times, which has fought countless expensive legal battles to support the principle that under the First Amendment it shouldn't have to disclose the identities of its anonymous sources -- remember Arthur Sulzberger Jr. running around with a "free Judith Miller" button -- has an editorial this morning supporting a law that would make it illegal for corporations to engage in what it calls "unlimited attack and advocacy ads financed from the shadows by special-interest money." The newspaper wants the corporate ceos or donors who pay for the ads to have to appear in the ads like Frank Purdue in a chicken commercial.
The Times writes:
The United States Chamber of Commerce immediately, predictably, warned that the new disclosure rules would "silence constitutionally protected speech." Actually, the measure applies sunshine, not silence, to secretive, end-run campaign spending.
Just as Frank Perdue used to proudly back his chickens, the proposed legislation requires the chief donors in corporate, union and shell organization ads to stand by their message before the cameras. It's healthy and candid. And to make informed choices, the voters certainly need to know.
If secrecy, silence, and shadows are bad and sunshine and candor are good, why apply two different standards, one for the anonymity of the Times's sources (anything less than full protection is a mortal offense against the Constitution) and another for corporate speech (anonymity a grave threat to the integrity of the republic). As the author of a biography of Samuel Adams, who wrote under dozens of pen names, I'm skeptical of laws restricting anonymous speech. Why is the plain language of the First Amendment -- "Congress shall make no law" -- so hard for the Times editorialists and the Congressional speech restricters to comprehend?